A few months ago, I was working closely with a woman who had offered to share her story with my blog, The Mama Sagas. She didn’t consider herself a writer, and putting her experiences on paper was a new and intimidating idea for her. As I edited her blog post, we emailed back and forth in conversation; we lived thousands of miles apart but helping her recount the stories that have impacted her gave me the opportunity to really get to know her. Finally, on the day her story was published, she wrote me an email that said, “Thank you for thinking I have a story worth telling.”
Those words have stuck with me ever since.
Most of us tend to reabsorb the stories that shape our character, bottling them up and safely tucking them away in the back of our consciousness. Sometimes, if our story is a tragic one, we do this out of self-preservation. Other times, we stay silent to avoid judgment or embarrassment. Sometimes we even pack away our most mundane stories because we think they aren’t worth telling. We convince ourselves that the experiences we’ve had are not important enough to recall.
Yet that’s what life is: a collection of experiences. Together, these accumulated stories define how we act, react, and interact, how we feel, how we love, how we present ourselves to the world, how we work, and how we communicate. Ultimately, our stories make us who we are.
When we bury the experiences that have shaped us, we are unable to recognize the impact they have on our choices and relationships. We begin to operate from a state of defensiveness and protection, whether we know it or not. Raw emotion smolders beneath the surface like embers of a fire, ready to reignite with the smallest spark. We isolate ourselves, either emotionally or physically, and unwittingly stifle our growth as people.
As parents, every day presents a new challenge. None of us really know what we are doing, so we do the best we can with what we’ve got. All of us feel like we are failing at some point. All of us collide head on with laugh-or-cry moments—sometimes multiple times a day. How we react in these situations teaches our kids how to react. And we won’t get it right every time.
Perhaps the best gift we can give our family is our continued effort to know ourselves better in order to respond better. By unloading the burden of our hidden struggles, we let go of the need for perfection, and we invite more ease and humor into our lives. We learn to take each experience for what it is: just another story to tell.
If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: everyone has a story worth telling. It might be funny, or sad, or scary, or inspiring, but it begs to be told. Once the decision has been made to unfurl the stories we carry within, we release ourselves from the captivity of isolation. When we tell our stories, we allow ourselves to connect with others on a deeper level, and we validate the experiences that—for better or worse—have defined who we are. In telling our stories, we give ourselves the choice to decide who we wish to be. We create room to heal, laugh, and forgive, and give others the opportunity to appreciate us for who we truly are, imperfections and all. In turn, when others confide in us, we learn to listen with new intent. We see our friends and family in new light, recognize their vulnerabilities and strengths, and learn to lead with compassion. In sharing our stories, we collectively realize: we are more alike than we are different.
This holiday season, let’s give ourselves the gift of telling our stories. Tell your partner, or the dog, or your reflection in the mirror. Meet a friend over coffee and share something hilariously awkward. Look back through old photo albums and recall the moments that have impacted you the most. Recognize and respect the emotions that bubble up at holiday family functions. Be honest, yet kind, with those you love, but especially with yourself. Ask questions and listen with a kind heart: remember that everyone you meet is learning to unpack their experiences, too. Commit to accumulating good experiences as if your life depends on it: Take the vacation. Make a mess. Be the first on the dance floor. Create a life of stories you can’t wait to tell. Your family will be better for it.
To share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.